Union in the News for May 15, 2005
Class of 2000 gives Seward gift
By Katy Moeller - The Daily Gazette
The graduates of Union College's Class of 2000 were thinking big when they voted to memorialize one of the Schenectady college's most accomplished alumni as their class gift to the school. And boy did they deliver.
A 3,700-pound boulder was trucked in from Alaska to serve as part of a permanent tribute to William H. Seward, an 1820 graduate of Union.
It was placed on an outer edge of the campus - right at the corner of Seward Place and Nott Street - and will be dedicated at 2 p.m. next Saturday [May 21] by Union alumni during reunion weekend events.
Some of the Alaskans who helped make the unusual memorial possible, including the folks at Anchorage Sand & Gravel, were sent invitations to the dedication, a college official said.
"Never have we ever shipped a stone across the country," said Dick Miller, owner of the Anchorage-based rock supply company Damco Paving Co., who actually found the boulder for the memorial.
"We sent a stone to Schenectady that came off the Seward Highway," Miller said in a phone interview last week. "We didn't do that by plan.
That's kind of where the source was - on the highway between Anchorage and Seward, Alaska."
One of two plaques that will be affixed to the boulder list Seward's many achievements, including the negotiation of our nation's purchase of the Alaskan territory from Russia in 1867. The $7.2 million land deal, which critics at the time dismissed as a waste of money, came to be known as "Seward's Folly."
"It's monumental what he did for America getting Alaska," Miller said of Seward, an expansionist who pushed to extend America's borders. "And he was ridiculed for it."
Union grads say the big Alaskan rock and accompanying plaques are an honor befitting a man who was a two-term governor of New York state and served as secretary of state under President Abraham Lincoln and his successor, Andrew Johnson.
Seward was ardently opposed to slavery, arguing publicly that a "higher law" mandated its abolition in all states. He sheltered fugitive slaves in his Auburn home as part of the Underground Railroad and later helped author the Emancipation Proclamation.
"As a historical figure, Seward was so important and he really doesn't get much credit," said Duncan Crary, one of the student leaders involved in the five-year effort to create the memorial. "He's greatly overshadowed by Lincoln. Seward was one of the key players who shaped the America that we live in today."
Each of Union's graduating classes decide on a gift for the school and generations of students to come. For example, the courtyard clock near the student union building was a gift of the Class of 1997.
"This year's class is doing an outdoor classroom right outside the library," said Palmer Fargnoli, Union's assistant director of annual giving. "They're doing it in memory of classmates who passed away and another fellow in the Class of 2003 who passed away before he was able to graduate."
The outdoor classroom will be used by faculty and students who want to gather outside when the weather gets nice, perhaps including benches and some kind of partial covering.
"As an alumnus, I think this is a fantastic project," Fargnoli said of the Seward memorial.
He noted that his class - the Class of 1993 - erected a wrought-iron fence on a section of the Nott Street side of campus.
The idea for memorializing Seward developed when a group of students in the Class of 2000 became aware that the street next to campus - Seward Place - was named for the illustrious 19 th Century Union alumnus.
"It came out of town-grown relations series at Union . . . a gentleman made the point that the college has no lasting tribute of its relationship to Seward," said Crary, an Albany native who earned an English degree from Union. "It was a great idea. It actually lit a fire in me and my fellow classmates."
A handful of students, including Crary, his distant cousin Cal Crary, Phoebe Burr, Jeremy Newell and Erika Mancini took the lead on the project. At one point, the group made a pilgrimage to the statesman's longtime home in Auburn.
They held fund-raisers and solicited donations from fellow classmates, raising more than $10,000 from the alumni and their parents.
Jeremy Dibbell, from Union's class of 2004, organized an event for Seward's 200 th birthday.
Members of the Schenectady community got interested in the project as well and donated close to $2,000.
"We always wanted it to be a gift to the city and the college,"
Duncan Crary said. "We wanted it located somewhere in an area between the college and city."
They weren't exactly sure what kind of memorial they wanted, or what they could afford, so they created a list of options.
One of the ideas was a statue. But the estimated price tag of fabricating a statue of Seward was in the $100,000 range, requiring the students to raise about $97,000 more than what the average class gift costs (most are about $3,000).
"We knew this project was going to take a while," Duncan Crary said.
"One of the immediate tributes to Seward we did was lobby the shuttle bus naming committed to name the trolley 'Seward's Trolley.' That was painted on the outside of the trolley in 2000."
The ambitious goal of erecting a statue went by the wayside as the alumni decided it would be better to establish some kind of memorial than to delay the project indefinitely.
"There was talk of changing the idea from a memorial to a scholarship at one point," said Cal Crary, a New York City-based freelance photographer who earned a degree in economics from Union. "We skirted around different ideas of what to do with the money."
Cal Crary said Union Professor Martin Benjamin, who teaches photography, came up with the idea of getting a rock from Alaska. Cal contacted the rock companies in Alaska about the project.
Miller, the rock supplier in Anchorage, e-mailed some photos of boulders he'd found that might be suitable for the memorial. The one they chose is a 5-foot-tall hunk of graywacke, a hard sedimentary rock that juts up out of the earth at the corner of Nott and Seward.
The Union alumni are pleased with the rock. And some say it even looks like Seward, a diminutive eccentric who had an usually large nose.
"It's funny because Seward was known for having a gigantic nose and this thing looks like a nose," Cal Crary joked last week. "He was only 5 feet tall. He was a tiny little redhead with a gigantic nose, which he was famous for."
One of the plaques that will be affixed to the boulder is a line from a famous speech Seward gave in Rochester in 1858:
"It is an irrepressible conflict between opposing and enduring forces . . . "
"That's, I think, Seward's most influential quote," Cal Crary said.
"It's in reference to the division of North and South over free labor, which was slavery."
The fruition of the memorial tribute may say more about the Class of 2000 than its honored subject.
"It's really exciting," Cal Crary said of the project. "I look forward to doing more projects with Union. All of us really love Union and are really excited to be a part of it."